HOUSTON -- One of the special parts of New England Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater’s nine-year NFL career has been sharing the experience with his father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater.
While their connection goes well beyond football, they know they can always count on one thing: Not long after the Patriots play a game, they’ll be hearing each other’s voices.
“Every game, the two people I talk to are my wife and my dad,” Matthew Slater explained. “First of all, I let my dad know I came out OK. Or if I didn’t, let him know what happened. Then we talk about plays that happened over the course of the ballgame.”
They aren’t typical father-son chats.
“They’re usually pretty interesting conversations because we talk specifically about certain plays,” Jackie Slater said from his California home. “He knows when I’m watching the game I’m watching the cold, hard details of his job. Was he supposed to be covering? Blocking? I don’t follow the ball unless, of course -- unless it’s anywhere near him. Just about the detail of his assignment, the effort he’s putting in, if he was successful or if he failed.
“It’s things probably a lot of people wouldn’t pay attention to, but he’s so focused on doing things right, and he knows that I’m focused that way, and I have a tendency to look at every little thing he does.”
The son, 31, always looks forward to those chats. Along with their faith, football has long been something that binds them.
“My dad has always been one of my biggest critics, but in a good way,” he said. “He’s always been there to encourage me, whether it was good or bad, ask me the tough questions. Mom would always say, ‘You did great,’ but Dad knows football, and he understands how the game is going.
“He’ll ask me, ‘What happened on that punt in the third quarter when they had you vised up?’ I really enjoy those conversations, to be able to recap the game with him. We’ve had a lot of good ones over the years to talk about.”
A seven-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle who played 20 years for the Rams and appeared in Super Bowl XIV, Jackie Slater will be in Houston for Super Bowl LI on Sunday, marking the third time he’s watched Matthew in a Super Bowl. Jackie is still around the game on a regular basis, serving as an assistant offensive line coach at Azusa Pacific University and as a Rams-based football analyst on a local television station.
Earlier this year, the Slaters became the first father-son combination to win the Bart Starr Award, which honors humanitarian efforts. Matthew Slater is the award winner this year, while his father was a recipient in 1996.
“It is special to see your son walk a road that is not as often [traveled] and separate himself from being just an average guy. His passion and his skill and abilities have allowed him to distinguish himself while impacting the lives of others, and there is a lot of pride in that,” Jackie Slater said.
“I’m very happy for him. This is something he wanted to do from a very young age. I did everything I could to steer him towards other sports, coached them all and just thought he would be too small. I told him, ‘In the ninth grade, if you still want to play, you can play tackle football.’
“He could not wait. I thought he forgot about it, but as soon as he got into the ninth grade, that’s when he started asking about doing it. He said he always wanted to be a cornerback because they don’t get hurt as much -- all they do is run and cover receivers. So he thought it all through, and I was compelled to follow through on my word. He’s worked very hard at it.”
The younger Slater ended up as a receiver/special-teamer, a very different role from that of his dad, who was a force as a blocker on the offensive line. Matthew has been a perennial Pro Bowl special-teams player who was voted All-Pro for the first time this year.
“The work he does is not easy,” Jackie Slater said. “There are some really, really difficult plays, some high-speed collisions that are very impactful, some of which I never had to deal with. So you’re concerned about his health, and you just trust that he’s acquired the skills needed to try to stay out of harm’s way while still being as explosive and destructive as he can.”
And at the end of the day, they’ll talk about it.